In all honesty, would you have given the original H.A.W.X. much of a look if it didn’t have the Tom Clancy name stuck in front of it? Flight sims, for all their promise of complete freedom—thousands of miles of empty sky in which you can wheel, loop, barrel roll and dive in to your heart’s content—have never really delivered the stomach churning thrills the concept promised, have they?
The problem is it's impossible to convey even a smidgeon of the sense of speed you get in a real jet fighter through a static TV. And without that guts falling out of you, edge of terror, someone’s messed with the laws of gravity realism, flight sims veer dangerously close to being boring. Thus (and this is a guess here, based on an assumption about the way the minds of marketing teams within the videogame industry work) the whole point of tacking Tom Clancy’s name onto the front of H.A.W.X. was to try and bring fighter pilot gaming to the masses. All gun-toting FPS fans were fair game, regardless of their allegiance to Rainbow Six or any other modern war shooters.
That's fair enough. Like a debutante who isn’t gifted with classic beauty, marketing teams do what they’ve got to do to catch the eyes of lustful young men. And in that respect, H.A.W.X. did what it set out to do, bring aerial combat games to the attention of the multitudes—you might never have heard of Ace Combat, but you’ll certainly be aware of the H.A.W.X. moniker.
The question is, was it worth it? Do you really need an aerial combat game in your collection? And if you do, should it be this one? The horrifying truth—at least for those who know the difference between a MIG-21 and a Mick Hucknall (one of them makes an annoying noise when very close up, the other makes one no matter what distance you are from him)—is that no one really needs a jet fighter game. The whole point of H.A.W.X.2, the one thing you’re meant to enjoy above all others, is dog fighting. Now that’s a very evocative word, bringing forth other mighty names in the history of above the clouds warfare: The Battle of Britain, Manfred Von Richthofen, The Red Baron and, naturally, Snoopy.
It’s Snoopy’s way, atop his twin-engine kennel, flying cap and goggles pulled down tight, silk scarf flapping wildly behind him, banking hard and diving down on enemy planes, taking hits in his fuselage and bailing out at the very last moment, that we want from our dog fights—where we can see our enemy’s face. Battles that don’t involve flying at 1,200kmph, pressing the fire button when the missile’s targeting system has locked onto the enemy’s plane, then banking hard and wondering where he went now that he’s miles in the opposite direction.
Yes, of course, the landscape is beautiful, thanks to some satellite mapping stuff, and the flying itself is smooth and well executed, but that’s not enough to make this interesting to anyone with no care for such things. Maybe if the AI in the rest of your squadron was sharp and behaved like the more experienced pilots they are meant to be, then each mission wouldn’t feel like you’re a lone pilot sent out to hit specific targets in the right order. But the fact is that your fellow pilots are seemingly blind and couldn’t hit a slug in a bucket of slugs with a salt cannon.
Frustrations arise when the game demands you hit a ground target when you have no ASMs at your disposal and pesters you with gnat like enemy fighter planes that you are forced to take on with just your cannons. It’s like bomber command thinks you’re too stupid to make the decisions and slaps you on the wrist every time you try to touch one of the buttons on the console. And those are some of the more interesting moments in the game. Aside from that you’ll be called upon to blow stuff up that you can’t really see as it whizzes past, blow aircraft out of the sky with the same old guided missiles from the last outing—complete with missile mounted camera tomfoolery—and do stuff that doesn’t involve trying to keep a supersonic aircraft the right way round while aiming at a dot on the ground below. And that’s when it actually gets interesting.
What’s most striking about this game is that the real fun comes not from the dogfights or tricky flight paths, not from unleashing missiles at enemy fighters, banking away to lock on to the next target before the first rocket hits, but from the moments when you’re not in control of the plane at all. Spotting enemy roadblocks for your man on the ground is about the only time you ever feel as if you’re involved in the fight. Otherwise, the fly here, shoot this aspect of the main missions seem far removed from the clichéd, unremarkable plot.
You’ll take to the skies as a Russian, an American or a Brit, in a variety of jet fighters, with orders to open fire on all manner of targets, but really, you could be an Icelander raining death on his Nordic neighbors and you wouldn’t really know it. Raining bombs down on enemy targets from an AC-130 is almost as much fun in H.A.W.X. 2 as it was in Modern Warfare. These side missions are quite simple to play, but they’re infinitely more compelling than the ace pilot shenanigans.
There’s one true thrill you can get from H.A.W.X.2—crashing—clipping a wing on an oilrig derrick and spinning into another ends in a ball of flame, while smashing into the control tower of your aircraft carrier does much the same. So wouldn’t it be great if you could replay your most spectacular crashes? From any angle. In slow-mo. That kind of thing would add definite replay value—chasing the ultimate goal of wiping out two enemy planes by clipping the wing of one and spiraling out of control into another. Some of us would chase that dream for weeks, with or without a Trophy as carrot. But that doesn’t happen; H.A.W.X. 2 is too serious for that kind of tomfoolery.
If you want a game that sticks as close to the reality of real jet fighter piloting, get yourself a PC. If you want a great dog fighting game that’s on the good side of fun, you really should check out Snoopy Flying Ace, the Xbox Live Arcade game that should make its way onto PSN at some point. But if you want a slightly realistic flying game with a by numbers Cold War tinged insipid plot, than H.A.W.X. 2 is your man.
-The Final Word-
H.A.W.X. 2 is one repetitive ride that offers little thrills outside of crashing.
|Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3|